What is an Open Relationship?
An open relationship is a mutual agreement between a couple who wants to stay together but decide that they want to date and have physical relationships with other people as well.
There is no fixed definition for an open relationship other than both parties being free to engage in sexual relationships with other people while keeping their relationship intact.
Experts agree that strong and open relationships tend to have one common denominator which is a “mutually agreed-upon set of guidelines”. Therefore, open relationships depend primarily on these set of ground rules.
And, outside relations can either be purely sexual or just flirting or may involve dating and romance. There is no clear cut definition but rather depends on what a couple agreed on.
Lance and Jane
Our team met Lance and Jane during one of our group meetings. They were introduced to us by a common friend. They learned that we’ve been doing case studies about couples who are into modern relationships and are practicing unconventional set-ups.
So, they decided to share their story with us in exchange for some relationship advice.
Lance and Jane have been together for almost 3 years. After living together for almost a year, they decided to go back to living separately while maintaining their relationship.
Although they knew that they love each other well enough, they realized that living together has caused a great deal of pressure on their individual lives. They knew that they had to set boundaries to re-define their relationship and to bring back the old spark.
Before Jane moved out of Lance’s apartment, they discussed about having an open relationship. Jane was the one who brought up the idea. It was a challenging decision but they eventually agreed to give it a shot.
For the next 6 months, they agreed to follow certain rules which included dating other people, flirting and even engaging in sexual activities.
However, they have to be open about their outside relations to each other and they should make time for their relationship as well.
Of all the rules that they needed to follow, setting emotional boundaries was the most challenging. They agreed to try their best to never fall in love with anyone. And in case it becomes inevitable, they had to be honest with each other.
Despite the risks, they went on with the decision. After barely two months, Lance found himself appreciating the set-up while Jane is starting to get tired of it.
With 4 months left on their agreement, both are trying to carry on with their relationship while managing their conflict.
How to Manage Open Relationships
Since open relationships generally have no clear-cut definition, it is important for a couple to discuss the ground rules involved.
As relationship specialists, we cannot advice Lance and Jane to control their emotions or to prevent themselves from having emotional involvements with other people.
It is a risk they have to face as a consequence of their agreement. We cannot deny that feelings are always valid regardless of the circumstances. So if one of them falls for another person as a result of their open relationship, they have to deal with it.
Here are some pieces of advice on how to manage open relationships;
Identify sexual boundaries
It is important to be specific because couples who agree on an open relationship may not be asexual. Are kissing, oral sex and penetrative sex allowed? Are you free to explore other things you don’t usually do with your partner?
In the heat of the moment, things could happen. Therefore, it’s best to talk things through in advance rather than risk hurting your partner. Furthermore, sex rules should include safe-sex practices.
Establish who to hook up with
Open relationships don’t necessarily mean “open to anyone and everyone”. This is one aspect where open couples can actually face potential problems.
Before you enter into an open relationship, create a set of limitations and determine who is fair game to get intimate with. There might be certain people who are “off limits” such as the ones your partner can get jealous with.
Furthermore, you might agree that it’s only acceptable to hang out with strangers or with people you won’t run into within your social circle.
Determine how much time you will spend with other partners
One important thing to discuss is whether you will both actively or passively explore each other’s outside relations.
How much information are you willing to disclose to each other? To what extent are you going to spend time with others? How often are you allowed to go on dates?
Will you take advantage of your set-up only when someone you find physically attractive happens to fall in your path? Discussing these matters can lessen the conflicts in your relationship.
Make an agreement whether or not to disclose your open relationship
It is important for couples to agree on how to talk about their open relationship with others, if at all.
Like anything that’s private in a relationship, it’s best to talk to your partner first to make sure that you won’t be revealing something that’s too personal or embarrassing. The last thing you would need is quick judgments from other people.